A thriving art and music community rests safely in the heart of Austin. Not only are the streets full of life, but they are also full of history. Austin tours and day trips from Austin Texas can be equally informative and exciting, and offer travelers a chance to experience some of the best attractions that Texas has to offer.
Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
Getting to grips with a city youâ€™re visiting for the first time is easier if you know its history, so starting your tour at this impressive museum is a fun way to glean some background detail. Its location on the north side of downtown is also a logical place to begin. Before you go into the three-level museum, visit the adjoining Texas Spirit Theatre (a huge Imax cinema) and watch The Star of Destiny, a short, info-packed film that takes you on an epic journey through the history of the state - it shows every hour on the hour, so time your arrival accordingly.
The exhibition starts with a chronicle of the Native Americans, followed by the story of the French and Spanish occupiers, the conflict with Mexico and George W Bush's tenure as state governor. You'll need at least an hour if you take a guided tour (contact the museum in advance to arrange) but a quick nose-around is equally satisfying. A word of caution - if you arrive before noon, expect to slalom your way through squadrons of local schoolchildren.
Texas State Capitol
A stone's throw from here, and visible from everywhere in the city, is the Texas State Capitol building at 1,100 North Congress Avenue. Home to the state government, it looks like an off-colour version of the White House - it was built by convicts and immigrants between 1882 and 1888, and in 1986 was made a National Historic Landmark. It's open to the public 7am-10pm on weekdays and 9am-8pm at the weekend.
There is an entrance on each side of the building but as you'll be walking south from the museum, you will enter through the rear door. It's free to get in, but be prepared to go through a security checkpoint and bag search. You'll immediately be struck by the grandiose interior, and your proximity to politicians and civil servants at work in offices along the corridors.
To get the most out of your visit, a guided tour is recommended - they start every 15 minutes and last half an hour. If you're pressed for time, nip up the palatial staircase next to the central atrium and pop your head into the Senate Chamber. You should be allowed to sit in the public gallery depending on what's happening that day. Don't miss the spectacular painting on the rear wall that depicts the Battle of the Alamo.
Head south on Congress Avenue for five blocks and turn left on Sixth Street until you see the imposing facade of the Driskill hotel on the corner of Brazos Street. Locals claim it is haunted and guests have reported paranormal activity - the daughter of a senator died here in 1887 after she fell down the stairs chasing a ball, and her spirit is believed to roam the hallways. Meanwhile, the Houston Bride is the ghost of a woman jilted at the altar in the 1990s, whose body was found in room 29.
Ghouls aside, it is a fantastic place to eat and drink. Order a cherry Coke and a freshly baked scone from the patisserie if you just want a pit stop to recharge your batteries. For something more substantial, the Driskill Grill is a fine-dining restaurant that serves traditional Texan fare (fantastic steaks) in typically Texan surroundings - look out for the giant moose head on the wall. If you're here in the late afternoon or evening, ask for a table near the piano so you can enjoy the live entertainment (but not too close as it can be loud).
Exit the Driskill and turn to your left - you're now on the corner of the Sixth Street entertainment district. Austin is seen by many as the live music capital of the world - it was Willie Nelson's decision to move here from Nashville that gave birth to Austin as a liberal, independent music destination. It is home to the annual Austin City Limits festival (aclfestival.com), which takes place in September, and South By Southwest a film and music event held each March. Musicians from across the US make their way to the city at one time or another to play in its bars and clubs, though you'll also find them performing in bookstores, supermarkets and barber's shops.
There are three main live music zones downtown, including the Warehouse and Red River districts, but Sixth Street is where most locals and tourists converge to watch value-for-money shows. Try Momo's, B D Rileys Irish pub or Antone's, where bands play nightly. Note that the bars and clubs only tend to come alive after 5pm. If you've got the time, book a music tour with an official guide at the Austin Visitors Centre.
The Bat Bridge
Hail a cab on Sixth Street and tell the driver to take you to South Congress, but ask to make a five-minute stop at the Congress Avenue Bridge - it should not cost more than US$10. The bridge, which crosses the Lady Bird Lake (named after the wife of former US president Lyndon B Johnson), is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America. Some 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats inhabit the bridgeâ€™s rafters from mid-March until November. At dusk they emerge en masse to forage for food. It is one of Austin's most spectacular attractions, and there are several vantage points along the bridge. For more information visit the kiosk at the north-east corner.
The South Congress area, south of downtown, is the bohemian heart of the city. Known locally as SoCo, it is home to an array of independent shops selling antiques, furniture, second-hand clothes and bric-a-brac. SoCo, like the rest of the city, is littered with live music venues and eateries. At the south end, going up the slope, you'll see a square on the left-hand side with food trucks serving everything from tacos to cupcakes. Most stay open until well after midnight on the first Thursday of the month, when you'll find scores of musicians playing in the street.
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